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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, November 30, 2012

Jane Austen channeling Mansfield Park's Fanny and Mary in Letter 89


In Austen-L, Ellen Moody wrote:  "Beattie's The Hermit is a lovely melancholy poem about someone wanting to escape not just the boredom and triteness of social life, but the hypocrisies of wealth, status and losing himself in the natural world. I can see Fanny Price reading it - "

Although Ellen, in writing the above, was not responding to my last post about Jane Austen's quoting of lines from two poems in Letter 89.....

...her comment about Beattie's The Hermit being the kind of poetry Fanny Price would have read fits  really nicely---but in ways that I suspect Ellen would not agree with--with my argument that JA, in quoting from Beattie and from Cowper (of course, a known favorite poet of Fanny Price), is reflecting her own feelings of isolation at Godmersham.

Ellen's comment made me realize that Jane Austen, nearly age 38, freshly arrived at Godmersham for the first time in years, is in some interesting ways very much like Fanny Price, age 8, freshly arrived at Mansfield Park. Surely JA, who was deeply into the writing of MP by the time she was writing Letter 89, was expressing some of  her own feelings through the character of the young Fanny.

Or....maybe I should reconsider that--maybe more apt and intriguing would be to think of JA, at age 38, as being more like the young woman Fanny, age 18, returning to Mansfield Park from exile in Portsmouth, to eventually  become the mistress of Mansfield Park?

Or.....quirkier still, the independent, "saucy" tone of JA's feminist appropriation of Cowper's poem in Letter 89, reminds me most of all of Mary (Crawford) arriving at Mansfield Park, from the getgo utterly unafraid to tweak the beard of power chez Bertram:

"I am now alone in the library, mistress of all I survey; at least I may say so, and repeat the whole poem if I like it, without offence to anybody."

When, in my last post, I interpreted her quotation of Cowper as a thinly veiled satire of the heartless, greedy snobbery of Godmersham, in my haste I had not even noticed that last bit: "without offence to anybody".

Hmm....those who have or would read that merely as JA, creepmouse like Fanny, being glad she could safely recite a poem aloud without bothering anybody with the noise, are surely guilty of not suspecting JA enough of ulterior meaning.

So I conclude in the end, that it's more Mary than Fanny whom JA is channeling in Letter 89---JA in the library (or in the subtext of Letter 89) is free to mock Edward & Company with impunity, because the latter are not only deaf to the acoustical sound of her voice in the library, they are even more profoundly deaf to her fierce, but veiled, critique of their way of life.

And, alas, I fear that Fanny Knight is included among the tone deaf, even as she is often JA's physical companion in the library itself. I think of them like Miss Bates and Emma--Emma believing she fully understands all their is to know about Miss Bates, but Miss Bates actually being the one with full awareness, floating above Emma on a magic carpet of words that conceal her true self from the girl not yet worthy to understand.

So Letter 89 is, in this sense, an epistolary celebration of the near-to-completed Mansfield Park, with a dash of the soon to be written Emma for good measure!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jane Austen's Letter 89: "'Tis night, and the landscape is lovely no more" , "I am the mistress of all I survey", and Nimmie Amee the Munchkin Girl

If you're wondering how in the world this post is going to connect all three of the above pieces, read on, by the end your mind might just be as blown as my was in writing it!

But has been previously duly noted by various Austen scholars (and Le Faye) that Jane Austen's Letter 89 contains not one but _two_ poetic quotations:

" 'Tis night, and the landscape is lovely no more"--- an exact, accurate quotation of one line from James Beattie's _The Hermit_:


"I am the mistress of all I survey" --- a quotation (with one important word changed, as noted below) of one line from Cowper's "Verses supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk, During His solitary Abode in tbe Island of Juan Fernandez"

But I don't see that any Austen scholar has looked at these two quotations in tandem and speculated _why_ they both appear in Letter 89, when JA did not previously (or subsequently) show any particular inclination to quote poetry in her letters to CEA (or to anyone else, for that matter).

Well...if you read the two poems which contain these two quoted lines, you'll quickly notice an _obvious_ thematic linkage--both are about individuals who find themselves in complete isolation from other people, far away from the rest of the human world.

As the Beattie page I linked to, above, states, "The Hermit features the narrator reflecting on the priority of nature over society and humanity as his teacher and moral exemplar. The poem is highly stylized, but reflects a philosophy of life that is congenial to its narrator and anticipates themes of the romantic movement."

And Cowper's poem is (obviously) in the imagined voice of the real life Alexander Selkirk, whose 4 1/2 year solitude alone on an island provided the inspiration for Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. A pretty well known poem.

So...JA has assumed the personae of these two individuals far far away from the madding crowd, and it seems equally obvious why. Both poems reflect her sense of being _physically_ present in the snobbish, insular, wealthy society at Godmersham for the first time in years, and yet, internally, feeling psychologically, emotionally and (most important) _morally_ distant from brother Edward and his vain, hypocritical world.

And note in particular that JA alters the word "monarch" in Cowper's poem to "mistress", to make it crystal clear that she is a _woman_ speaking.

But let's dig a bit deeper. When you read the Cowper poem, it is apparent from the first stanza's final two lines that the first line is meant to be read ironically. The speaker begins saying he is the monarch of all he surveys, but rapidly deflates the mood, concluding (opposite to Milton's Satan) that he'd rather live a troubled life among other people than reign in total solitude.  Beattie's hermit is more enigmatic, but I see him as finding peace, as he sheds human vainglory and simply tunes his soul to nature.  Two very different views of nature and the human soul.  So Selkirk and the Hermit might have a very interesting debate about the plusses and minuses of extended solitude.

And if we stop there, this heretofore unexplored thematic connection between these two quoted lines in Letter 89 would be of real interest to Janeites wishing to better understand JA's poetic inclinations, and also her sense of her place in the extended Austen family in late 1813---And that would be well worth knowing, if that were all the juice to be squeezed from this particular fruitful bit of analysis.

But that's just part one of this post, because the coolest part of this came to my attention only because I had a very strong hunch that JA did not bring books of poetry with her to Godmersham---a place which had, as is now known, a -pretty good sized library in 1818 when its books were catalogued, and therefore likely had most if not all of those same books in September 1813 when JA visited---but chose her reading from that very same library during her stay.

In this regard, read Gillian Dow's article:

So.....I just _knew_ in my gut that JA had found _both_ of those poems in the Godmersham library, and, if I was lucky, she found them in the same book. And guess what, Google Books has just shown me that that was almost certainly the case, as I believe I have identified not only the book JA was reading that day at Godmersham, but the actual _page_! And, if you follow this trail to the end, it leads all the way over the rainbow to the Emerald City--so follow the yellow brick road as I lay it out for you, if you dare! 

The book I believe JA read in the Godmersham library that day is the "P" volume of  an 1813 (i.e., published _just_ before JA's visit to Godmersham) multivolume work called "Pantologia: A New Cyclopaedia, Comprehending a Complete Series of Essays" By John Mason Good, Olinthus Gregory, & Newton Bosworth.

And here is the text I found in the _same_ column on the same page in the midst of the long article on "Poetry" in the long subsection entitled "On English versification":

"In the celebrated elegy of Gray, its defects, however, are all concealed by a profusion of poetical beauties; and by the graceful muse of Hammond its fetters are rendered elegant and ornamental:

"Why should the lover quit his pleasing home, In search of danger on some foreign ground?
Or from his weeping fair ungrateful roam, And risk in every stroke a double wound ?
Ah! better far, beneath the spreading shade, With cheerful friends to drain the sprightly bowl,
To sing the beauties of my darling maid, And on the sweet idea feast my soul."

The common anapestic verse, of eleven and twelve syllables, in which the accent falls on every third syllable, has generally been appropriated to humorous subjects: when formed into the stanza, it assumes a different character. In the noble warsong of Burns it is however a strain truly sublime; and in the following passage of Beattie flows with equal sweetness and pathos:

" 'Tis night, and the landscape is lovely no more:
I mourn, but, ye woodlands, I mourn not for you;
For morn is approaching, your charms to restore,
Perfum'd with fresh fragrance, and glittering with dew.
Nor yet for the ravage of winter I mourn;
Kind nature the embryo blossom will save:
But when shall spring visit the mouldering urn?
Oh! when shall it dawn on the night of the grave?"

This stanza is, from the intractable nature of the anapestic measure, of difficult execution. In that employed by Cowper in the following instance, constructed on similar principles, the syllables are less numerous, and the cadence is in general more harmonious:

" I am monarch of all I survey, My right there is none to dispute;
From the centre, all round to the sea, I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
O Solitude ! where are the charms That sages have seen in thy face?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms Than reign in this desolate place.''    END QUOTE FROM PANTALOGIA ARTICLE

OK, the fact that both of the quoted lines appear in the same column in this 1813 encyclopedia article would be a remarkable coincidence standing alone. But what takes it from likely to almost certain that JA read Beattie's poem in this Pantalogia article and not in some other publication (such as Elegant Extracts, which did  contain Beattie's poem in full) is that the line JA quotes in Letter 89 is _not_ the first line of the poem, but is actually the first line of the _fourth_ stanza (out of six) in the poem!

So, what at first appeared to be JA selecting for quotation the 19th line (which as you can see, is utterly cryptic when taken out of context from the poem) in particular out of all _48_ lines in Beattie's poem, was actually JA selecting the _first_ line quoted in the Pantalogia article--as to which it would therefore be the best line for her to select!

And the same is true to a lesser extent in Cowper's poem--did JA merely quote the first line of the entire poem (which, like Beattie's, consists of six stanzas), or (as I believe was the case) did JA quote the first line out of a single 8-line stanza? The latter is much more likely.

My conclusion is that as JA was browsing through the Pantalogia article on "Poetry" that day--just as Fanny Price would have done---feeling particularly isolated among the snobs of Godmersham, and missing the "troubled" Miss Batesian female community (with CEA, Martha and, yes, even Mrs. Austen) at Chawton Cottage--a community in which it did not matter if your name appeared in the Peerage, or how many thousands you had per year---she noticed, with her quick eye, that the two poem excerpts quoted on that same page were both about isolation, and so she chose to quote _both_ in Letter 89, expecting CEA to read between the two lines (so to speak) and hear the hidden message.

And just in case you were wondering, I have written to Gillian Dow to ask her whether the Pantalogia was actually there in the Godmersham catalogue of 1818--anyone want to bet on whether she'll confirm it was? 

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: Note also that the passage in the Pantalogia includes a brief discussion of Gray's Elegy,  a famous poem which we all know was quoted by JA in both NA and _Emma_---all the more reason for JA to have zeroed in on that particular page.

P.S.:  Now to finally land the plane and bring you to the third part of my Subject Line, I invite you to join me in reading, with wonder,  the following excerpt from "The Complete Book of Oz" by L. Frank Baum:

"Are you happy?" asked the Tin Soldier.
"Of course I am," said Nimmie Amee; "I'm the mistress of all I survey--the queen of my little domain."
"Wouldn't you like to be the Empress of the Winkies?" asked the Tin Woodman.
"Mercy, no," she answered. "That would be a lot of bother. I don't care for society, or pomp, or posing. All I ask is to be left alone and not to be annoyed by visitors."
The Scarecrow nudged Woot the Wanderer.
"That sounds to me like a hint," he said.

Is that thematic resonance with the poetry quoted by JA in Letter 89 just a coincidence? Nimmie Amee is saying, very clearly, that she doesn't "care for society, or pomp, or posing".  That is _exactly_ the overarching theme of Letter 89! And it's just hilarious to think of the chief society lady in the Godmersham circle as Empress of the Winkies!  And recall that Baum wrote the above passage in 1900, a scant 16 years after Brabourne's edition of JA's letters---_including_ Letter 89---was published, plenty of time for Baum to have read them, and to have taken particular note of Letter 89.  Sure sounds like L. Frank Baum was a closet Janeite!

Now, not being an Oz aficionado, I went to Wikipedia and learned that Nimmie Amee is the Munchkin Girl whom both the Tin Woodman and the Tin Soldier once loved, but who was enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the East preventing her from marrying either of them--- but eventually she does marry a kind of Frankenstein composite man who is made up, one half each, from the bodies of the two Tin wooers!

According to this blogger, this is L Frank Baum fantastical reenvisioning of Mary Shelley's fantastical Frankenstein...

...but now I think that Baum not only had Mary Shelley on his radar screen, but also had JA in his sights as well!

And there I suggest that you all click your heels twice and return to your daily life, already in progress! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Oooh.....Henry Crawford was a VERY bad boy!

This post is for those who enjoy a speculative leap into the textual unknown:

Near the end of Chapter 42 of MP, we read the following, immediately after the famous passage in which Henry Crawford asks Fanny for advice as to how he should handle the troubling possibility of self-dealing and breach of fiduciary duty by his steward,  Maddison, but Fanny refuses to advise him, urging him instead to listen to his _own_ conscience:

"[Crawford] could say no more, for Fanny would be no longer detained. He pressed her hand, looked at her, and was gone. He went to while away the next three hours as he could, with his other acquaintance, till the best dinner that a capital inn afforded was ready for their enjoyment, and she turned in to her more simple one immediately."

What caught my eye for the first time this time around were the phrases "with his OTHER acquaintance" and "ready for THEIR enjoyment."

I checked back and I am pretty sure JA never mentioned _any_ acquaintances of Henry who might be passing through Portsmouth that evening (and think about it, if the acquaintances were living _in_ Portsmouth, they would not need to arrange a dinner at an inn, right? They'd dine at the home of those "other acquaintances").

So, going on my tried and true assumption that when JA mentions an unnamed character in passing, as an apparent throwaway detail, it just might be a minor character we have _already_ encountered elsewhere in the novel---and sometimes might even be one of the other _major_ characters.

And it took me about 2 seconds to realize who Henry's "other acquaintance" almost certainly was-----Maria Bertram Rushworth herself!

After all, it is only four chapters (and, I believe, about three weeks) later that Fanny learns, to her horror, that Maria has eloped with Henry to parts unknown.

It would make perfect sense that the elopement did not happen spontaneously in one day, it had to be planned. And so I believe the initial post-marital adultery between Maria and Henry occurred _that_ evening in Portsmouth---that would have been just the kind of illicit, daring flouting of conventional morality which the caged "starling" Maria, suffocating in her marriage to Rushworth, would have found intoxicatingly arousing.  Just think here of Diane Lane's very unhappily married wife in the film Unfaithful, after she meets an intoxicatingly attractive Frenchman who offers her gratifications which she cannot resist, despite the risks. Satanic does this make the jaded pervert, Henry Crawford, that at the very moment he has come oh-so-close to making a hole in Fanny's heart, i.e., getting within hailing distance of winning her over--that's when he gets some kind of perverted kick out of first putting on the dog-and-pony show of  asking Fanny for moral advice--an anecdote he will, perhaps, share with Maria that evening in order to get her both jealous and aroused, all of which will make a rousing prelude to an evening of passionate love with Fanny's married cousin, even as Fanny despairs over her own humble origins, thoughts which mirror Elizabeth Bennet's despair over _her_ family's "warts"!

If Henry has done what I suggest, then he reminds me strikingly of Al Pacino's Satan in The Devil's Advocate---to make a hole in the heart of a virtuous young woman, all the while getting ready for a roll in the hay with her wild cousin--that's.....very bad!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: And....while I'm indulging in creative speculation, I also took note of the _other_ reference to unnamed acquaintance in Chapter 42, earlier that same day, when Henry shows up out of the blue and attends church services with Fanny and the other Prices:

"Mrs. Price took her weekly walk on the ramparts every fine Sunday throughout the year, always going directly after morning service and staying till dinner-time. It was her public place: there she met her acquaintance, heard a little news, talked over the badness of the Portsmouth servants, and wound up her spirits for the six days ensuing."

She met her acquaintance, heard a little news.....I can't help but wonder whether Mrs. Price has sized Henry up and has decided she doesn't want Henry to marry Fanny, so perhaps she has--shades of Mrs. Yonge in P&P---operated behind the scenes, working through those unnamed acquaintances, so as to facilitate Henry and Maria having a late night liaison at the "capital inn"?  I.e., has Mrs. Price in some way acted as a "middleman" so as to tempt Henry away from Fanny before he can seal the deal with her?

Friday, November 23, 2012

HELP MAKE SCIENCE HISTORY! Only 33 hours to go....

I've written twice before about my son Ethan's historic science crowdfunding project...

...and as I write this post at 9:31 PM EST, he has raised a total of $19,286 from a total of 281 separate donors, over 95% of whom are NOT members of our extended family!

He has 33 hours to go before his deadline is reached, and the pace of donations has picked up significantly during the past 48 hours, just as Ethan predicted, based on his careful analysis of prior crowdfund appeals.

And so he has an excellent chance of actually reaching his ambitious $25,000 goal!

So...if you're reading this, and are someone who has enjoyed my literary sleuthing, and would like to raise my sleuthing adrenaline so that I will be inspired to provide you more entertaining food for thought about Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Joyce, et al, PLEASE consider making a donation to my son's project, and/or forwarding the link for this post to anyone you know who might want to help make science history.

Ethan's witching hour is 6 am EST Sunday November 25, 2012---don't be late!!!!!!

 Many thanks,

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S. added Monday 11/26/12:  For those who read the above post and wondered,, Ethan made his deadline of $25,000 at 2 am EST Sunday morning, and wound up with a total of $25,460! To anyone who read this post and contributed, our heartfelt thanks!!! 

Jane Austen's Letter 87: Another (Mind-Bending Pen-Mending) Echo of Pride & Prejudice Chapter 10

In my multiple posts within the past week about Jane Austen's "writing in short sentences" passage in Letter 87, which are all collected here...

....I claimed that JA was deliberating deploying and echoing the same sort of absurdist, incongruous equating of tangible and intangible qualities as she had deployed so remarkably in Chapter 10 of Pride & Prejudice, with Bingley's juxtaposing "height" and "weight" in a similar fashion.

Today, I detected yet _another_ curious echo between Letter 87 and Chapter 10 of P&P, which, I suggest, makes it even more likely that all of this echoing was entirely intentional on JA's part.

First, we have the following passage in Chapter 10 of P&P, involving the use of an unsatisfactory pen to write a letter to a beloved sister, which occurs only a handful of lines earlier in the very same scene as Bingley's "indirect boast":

[Miss Bingley to Darcy] "I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend
it for you. I mend pens remarkably well."
[Darcy] "Thank you—but I always mend my own."
[Miss Bingley] "How can you contrive to write so even?"
He was silent.

And now here we have the following line in Letter 87, also involving the use of an unsatisfactory pen to write a letter to a beloved sister, which occurs only a handful of lines earlier than the "short sentences" passage:

 "I must get a softer pen. This is harder. I am in agonies."

Yet another strange coincidence between Letter 87 and Chapter 10 of P&P? I think it's intentional on JA's part.

What does this parallelism of unsatisfactory pens mean? I don't know for sure, but given the (obvious and well-recognized) sexual innuendo in Miss Bingley's and Darcy's banter, I would have to think JA somehow, some way, is hinting in a similarly suggestive fashion.

Just reread that sentence a few times, keep in mind that Jane Austen has just published Pride & Prejudice, with its broad sexual word play on the word "pen", and see what comes to mind, in terms of a pen that is so hard that it causes agonies to a woman. 
This is NO coincidence, the only question is whether this was merely a bit of sexual wordplay between mature women, or had some additional meaning to the two Austen sisters. 
It's only by excavating each and every instance of such sexual wordplay that survives in JA's novels and letters, and then comparing them all to each other, as I just have done in this post, that we might eventually reach some more profound understanding of what she was about with this.... 
 Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Monday, November 19, 2012

Jane Austen’s Letter 87: “I am going to write nothing but short sentences (at cramped Henrietta Street)”

Letter 87 is one of the longest letters, if not _the_ longest, of all 154 surviving JA letters---it takes up nearly 4 ½ pages in Le Faye’s 3rd edition---apparently in this instance, at least, JA was not concerned about the cost of sending a long letter to CEA,  perhaps because of Mr. Gray’s involvement as a kind of personal courier? In any event, the extreme length of Letter 87 provides a sharp ironic counterpoint to a theme I have just discerned which pops up several times during the letter, which relates, I believe, to the financial wherewithal of Henry, in the aftermath of his wife’s death, which I am pretty sure I am not imagining. I am curious to hear what others think about my following interpretation:

“Here I am, my dearest Cassandra, seated in the breakfast, dining, sitting-room, beginning with all my might.”

This seems to me to be JA’s droll way of  strongly implying, without having to say it straight out, that Henry’s new digs at Henrietta Street are very small, such that the room JA is sitting in as she writes Letter 87 is forced to fulfill all of the functions normally (and, in the case of Henry and Eliza’s former residence at Sloane Street) assigned to three separate rooms? It’s hard for me to see any other fair meaning of that sentence. And here’s what J. David Grey wrote about the history of Henry’s living quarters in London between 1808-1816, which I think fits very well with my inference:

“Henry and two associates had founded a banking institution in London sometime between 1804 and 1806.  Austen, Maunde and Tilson of Covent Garden flourished and enabled Henry and Eliza to move from Brompton (where Jane Austen had found the quarters cramped during a visit in 1808) to a more fashionable address and larger house at 64 Sloane Street.  Jane's visits here in 1811 and 1813 were happy events, filled with parties, theatre-going, and the business of publishing Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.  1813 brought both good fortune and tragic loss.  Uncle Leigh Perrot and his brother, Edward (Austen) Knight, helped to secure Henry's appointment as Receiver-General for Oxfordshire.  His happiness was marred, however, by Eliza's death after a painfully debilitating illness.  Henry soon moved to quarters over the bank at 10 Henrietta Street and, later, back to Chelsea, 23 Hans Place. Jane was entertained at both establishments. “

And what then occurred to me for the first time, as I read all of the above, was that perhaps, while Eliza was alive, she was receiving a healthy monthly stipend from “Daddy” Warren Hastings, which enabled the couple to live in high style at Sloane Street? But then, once Eliza died, Hastings (despite Henry’s desperate efforts to curry favor with the “great man”) was no longer forking over that dough to Henry? And so Henry was thereupon quickly forced to move to a much smaller place?  It sure smells that way to me. And maybe that’s partly why Henry visits Hastings at Daylesford, not only to bring S&S and P&P for Hastings to read, not only to condole about the death of Eliza, but also in some (apparently unsuccessful) attempt by Henry to convince Hastings to continue to dole out that stipend?

This would fit very well with Henry’s extreme toadyish obeisance toward Hastings, which is well documented in other instances as well. Financial largesse, whether in the form of cash, or in the form of a clerical living, is of course a powerful incentive to encourage toadying---just look at pretty much all the clergymen in JA’s novels.

And the beat goes on in Letter 87:

“ We had a very good journey, weather and roads excellent…We arrived at a quarter-past four, and were kindly welcomed by the coachman, and then by his master, and then by William, and then by Mrs. Perigord, who all met us before we reached the foot of the stairs. Mde. Bigeon was below dressing us a most comfortable dinner of soup, fish, bouillee, partridges, and an apple tart, which we sat down to soon after five, after cleaning and dressing ourselves and feeling that we were most commodiously disposed of. The little adjoining dressing-room to our apartment makes Fanny and myself very well off indeed, and as we have poor Eliza's bed our space is ample every way.”

After JA’s detailed account of the warm hospitality extended to herself and (I think) three of the Knight children—Fanny, Edward and who was the third?---by Henry and his household, we again see, at the end, yet another subtle suggestion of extra luxury associated with Eliza, in JA’s pointing to the size of Eliza’s bed, which by negative implication, suggests that the other bed(s) in Henry’s apartment are not so “ample” in “space”.

And does this also suggest also that during Eliza’s final horrible illness, she slept in her own commodious sick bed, apart from Henry?  I would imagine that was the case.

JA was someone for whom small details were important, so I begin to gather that she means to emphasize that a double standard of some kind had prevailed in Henry and Eliza’s marriage. But the best is now about to come, the verbal “winks” which seal the deal,  I claim, in validating my interpretation.

“At seven we set off in a coach for the Lyceum; were at home again in about four hours and a half; had soup and wine and water, and then went to our holes.”

Okay, now JA is joking about the visitors at Henrietta Street being like a pack of small rodents, who retire in the evening to small holes in the ground. Once again, this imagery emphasizes the smallness of the space at Henrietta Street.

“Edward finds his quarters very snug and quiet.”

And there again, about the quarters being “very snug”—translation—small.

But here is the piece de resistance:

“I am going to write nothing but short sentences.  There shall be two full stops in every line. Layton and Shear's is Bedford House. We mean to get there before breakfast if it's possible; for we feel more and more how much we have to do and how little time. This house looks very nice. It seems like Sloane Street moved here. I believe Henry is just rid of Sloane Street. Fanny does not come, but I have Edward seated by me beginning a letter, which looks natural.”

I believe I am the first to realize that JA does not randomly and abruptly come up with the conceit of only writing small sentences. This must be interpreted in context!  Jane Austen’s absurdist sense of humor has flared up, as she puts the crowning touch on her theme of insufficient space at Henrietta Street. JA sounds a lot like Lewis Carroll when she takes that theme and turns it into a line that would have been right at home in Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass---i.e., because the room JA is sitting in is so small, she must therefore write only in short sentences, or else they won’t be able to escape from the tiny room!!!!

Isn’t that hilarious? We’ve seen this very same sort of humor over and over again in her letters, I am trying to remember the last example, but it wasn’t that long prior to Letter 87.    

Once again, JA, like Miss Bates, seems to write about very little, but, via the Jane Austen Code, she tells a great deal!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: Speaking of Miss Bates,  I am sure I am not the first Austen scholar to notice the distinct echo of the comic dynamics between Mr. Woodhouse and Mr. PERRY in the following passage in Letter 87:

“Lady Bridges drinks at the Cross Bath, her son at the Hot, and Louisa is going to bathe. Dr. PARRY seems to be half starving Mr. Bridges, for he is restricted to much such a diet as James's bread, water and meat, and is never to eat so much of that as he wishes, and he is to walk a great deal-walk till he drops, I believe-gout or no gout. It really is to that purpose. I have not exaggerated.”


In the above post, I concluded with the following statements:

"I believe I am the first to realize that JA does not randomly and abruptly come up with the conceit of only writing small sentences. This must be interpreted in context!Jane Austen’s absurdist sense of humor has flared up, as she puts the crowning touch on her theme of insufficient space at Henrietta Street. JA sounds a lot like Lewis Carroll when she takes that theme and turns it into a line that would have been right at home in Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass---i.e., because the room JA is sitting in is so small, she must therefore write only in short sentences, or else they won’t be able to escape from the tiny room!!!! Isn’t that hilarious? We’ve seen this very same sort of humor over and over again in her letters, I am trying to remember the last example, but it wasn’t that long prior to Letter 87."

Of course, within a few minutes of sending that earlier message, I remembered which passage from JA's writings I had taken note of exactly that sort of Lewis Carroll-like absurdity in regard to an incongruous equating of tangible and intangible characteristics.

Here is a link to my post in Austen-L from barely two months ago, as to that earlier example, which is the scene early in P&P when Bingley (playfully, I assert) presents Darcy’s being taller as the rationale for why Bingley defers to Darcy in all matters:

I ended that earlier post with the following comments:

“All of a sudden, we find ourselves in Swiftian terrain---in Lilliput and Brobdignag, where a seemingly silly, trivial bit of absurdity turns out to hold great significance. So my guess is that Bingley, for all his self-presentation as an impulsive, shallow thinker, actually read Gulliver's Travels and believed that the arguments of "short people" should be given _extra_ weight.”

And just as I concluded in that earlier post that this absurdity was only a mask for the deeper, very serious meaning, which in that instance was that the wishes of “short people”, i.e., women, received no respect, so, too, in Letter 87, the absurdity of writing in short sentences in a small room masks JA’s real concern at how quickly Henry’s financial circumstances seem to have plummeted in the aftermath of his wife’s death.

Seems like JA, in 1813, had more compassion for Henry in such financial straits, than Henry had for JA, CEA and Mrs. Austen’s financial straits in 1805 after Revd. Austen died.

That old gender double standard……

Cheers, ARNIE


As a very quick followup to my posts yesterday about the above quoted  line in Letter 87, I checked back in my files and found the following quotation from an interesting article written 25 years ago by Terry Castle about JA's letters:

" Elsewhere she announces: ‘I am going to write nothing but short Sentences.’ The result – rather more uncannily – is like proto-Gertrude Stein: There shall be two full stops in every Line. Layton and Shear’s is Bedford House. We mean to get there before breakfast if it’s
possible. For we feel more & more how much we have to do. And how little time. This house looks very nice. It seems like Sloane St moved here. I believe Henry is just rid of Sloane St – Fanny does not come, but I have Edward seated by me beginning a letter, which looks natural. One can imagine the pleasure-addiction such writing engendered ..."

Indeed I _can_ imagine the pleasure-addiction such writing  engendered--just imagine being Cassandra, and never knowing what gems she was going to be treated to when she received a letter from Jane! I can only hope that CEA reciprocated and gave Jane something close to the same pleasure.

And Terry Castle is right there with me in reading the above passage in an absurdist vein, as Castle refers to the "short sentences" passage as "like proto-Gertrude Stein". Indeed, Castle also picks up on the early 20th century absurdist flavor of JA's writing when JA was in that mood/mode.

And I'd like to add that today I see even more significance in the similarity between the above passage, and the passage I quoted from P&P when Darcy and Bingley spar verbally over the effect of Darcy's tallness on their relationship.

I see now that JA is channeling the _same_ feminist motif in both! I.e., I interpreted the Bingley-Darcy exchange as ultimately being about the lack of respect accorded to the opinions of "short people" (i.e., women) in JA's England. And now I see that JA has used her repeated sly allusions to the smallness of Henry's new apartment at Henrietta Street
as a springboard to return to that theme of the "smallness" of _women's_  writing---she is punning on the idea of "short Sentences" as being the writing of "short people" (i.e., women)---and so she not only writes in sentences containing few words, she proceeds to write a spontaneous short parody of sentences which are "short" on  ideas, i.e., are about
silly gossip. Or something to that effect.

And finally, Castle's associating the above passage with Gertrude Stein makes me even _more_ confident that Gertrude Stein was a closet Janeite....

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Jane Austen's Letter 87: The Perks of Being Sensitive to Austenian Irony

There are the _three_ short passages in Letter 87 which refer to Warren Hastings, who was, of course, the former Governor General of India. His impeachment trial was one of the major political events of Jane Austen's teenage years, and his personal connections to the Austen family over a period of decades are extremely well known:

"And Mr. Hastings! I am quite delighted with what SUCH A MAN writes about it. Henry sent him the books after his return from Daylesford, but you will hear the letter too….I long to have you hear Mr. H.'s opinion of P. and P. His admiring my Elizabeth so much is particularly welcome to me...I heard Edward last night pressing Henry to come to G[odmersha]m, and I think Henry engaged to go there after his November collection. Nothing has been done as to S&S. The books came to hand too late for him to have time for it before he went. Mr. Hastings never hinted at Eliza in the smallest degree...."

So as not to reinvent the wheel, here is the link to the blog post I wrote early last year in which I spelled out the many ways--in particular the veiled negative connotations, in _all_ of JA's novels, of the expression "such a man"---in which the three short above-quoted passages in Letter 87 are, in a thinly veiled way, pointing to Warren Hastings as the biological father of Jane Austen's cousin, Eliza (Hancock de Feuillide) Austen, and also to Hastings as an important allusive source for the character of
Colonel Brandon in S&S:

As you will see if you read the above post, the textual evidence supporting my ironic, sarcastic interpretation really is overwhelming in this case, and the "punch line" of my post was as follows:

"But I think JA is most curious to know if Hastings will take the hint of the two references to Brandon's illegitimate daughter, combined with other items connecting him to Hastings, such as the duel, and all the
stuff connecting to Tysoe and Phila Austen. Whereas in P&P JA writes "His admiring my Elizabeth so much is particularly welcome to me."—this seems sincere, as Eliza Bennet is in part a tribute to Eliza Hancock Austen, and her Beatrice-like sparkling with and vivacity, and JA believes that Hastings did have a soft spot for his "daughter". But it's also why JA writes "Mr. Hastings never hinted at Eliza in the smallest degree" in the immediately preceding sentence. I suggest that this is not Eliza Bennet (who is referred to sentences later as "Elizabeth"), but Eliza _Williams_ from S&S--and the way JA encodes this is two sentences later when she refers to various members of the Williams family. If they are actual people in the first place, and I think they are, I suggest that even so they are mentioned in _that_ sentence in the letter, sandwiched between sentences about Hastings, purposely to flag for CEA's sensitized eyes a veiled reference to Eliza _Williams_!"

I.e., it is only when Letter 87 is read in the context of the open secret of Hastings as Eliza's biological father, and Hastings having been given copies of both S&S and P&P, that JA's otherwise cryptic statement "Mr. Hastings never hinted at Eliza in the smallest degree" becomes utterly clear in its meaning --it's Eliza Williams, who bears an illegitimate daughter named Eliza to a man who owns a great estate named _Delaford_ (sounds almost exactly like _Daylesford_).

This is the essence of the Jane Austen Code--what the reader can understand depends entirely on what assumptions the reader is operating under.

And, since I wrote the above linked post, I have realized that Warren Hastings is also represented in _another_ of JA's novels---Mansfield Park-in the character of the ponderous Sir Thomas Bertram--and of course Mary Crawford is yet another representation of Hastings's illegitimate daughter Eliza. And so it comes as no surprise that the novel of which JA was deep in the writing as she wrote Letter 87, was that very same Mansfield Park!

Therefore, the above probably qualifies  as perhaps the _quintessential_ example of the dangers of not being sensitive to irony while reading Jane Austen. If one is tone deaf to her irony, one is at grave risk of reading one of her passage utterly opposite to Jane Austen's true meaning.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S.: After posting the above, today, it occurs to me that I ought to finish with a brief speculative leap into the darkest shadows of Jane Austen’s novels, and to look more closely at Elizabeth Bennet as a representation of Eliza (Hancock de Feuillide) Austen, in connection with JA’s writing “Mr. Hastings never hinted at Eliza in the smallest degree". In my above linked blog post from last year, I  concluded that Eliza _Bennet_ was not the hint from Warren Hastings that JA was watching out for, but instead, it  was Eliza _Williams_.
But what  if the hint from Hastings that JA was watching out for was not just regarding the (undisguised) illegitimacy of Eliza _Williams_, but was  _also_regarding the (deeply disguised)  illegitimacy of Eliza _Bennet_?
Sounds completely crazy?
Well, I have for over 7 years taken special note of the extraordinary coincidence  of so many suitors  (Darcy, Wickham, and Collins) all showing up at Lizzy’s door within such a short time period. I have long been of the opinion that this is not a coincidence at all, but instead Jane Austen’s broadest possible hint that things are going on offstage of which Lizzy, and therefore also the passive  reader, is utterly unaware..
And one theory I have long kept in the back of my mind, as being a key element of solving the winking hint of that giant coincidence, was that perhaps there was something about the circumstances of Lizzy’s birth---completely _unknown_ to Lizzy herself—which perhaps made her an especially inviting  target for those three men---i.e., might she not be the biological child of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, but instead of some rich powerful man—like, say, the elder Mr. Darcy—and some  young woman living  21 years earlier in the vicinity of Pemberley---like, say, the  younger, unmarried Mrs. Gardiner?
It would explain an awful lot if it were so, especially if Lizzy had been Mr. Darcy’s _only_ true biological offspring.
And there I leave off with my brief speculative  leap……